Sen. Rubio's push for child tax credit is all about 2020

Sen. Rubio's push for child tax credit is all about 2020
© Keren Carrion

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Overnight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' Dems can use subpoena power to reclaim the mantle of populism MORE (R-Fla.) won the last round in his skirmishes over the GOP tax bill. He also won the headlines he craves.

Republicans writing the tax overhaul boosted refundability of the $2,000 child tax from $1,100 to $1,400, winning the Florida senator’s “yes” vote a day after he had threatened to sabotage the GOP’s major 2017 initiative, only inches from the finish line. The change was paid for by limiting the availability of the credit to those in higher income brackets.


While there was relief that the measure can now proceed, many wonder why Rubio is being such a pain in the neck for the GOP.


Simple: He’s aiming to challenge President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE in 2020. To do so he needs a serious reboot. The last we saw of “Little Marco” was his astonishing robo-repeat in one of the GOP debates, where he uttered the same line four times in a row — what some have called the worst nine minutes of the Florida senator’s career.

It confirmed charges of rivals like Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) that Rubio had nothing to offer but a bunch of memorized speaking points. It was a performance we won’t soon forget; that’s his problem. 

In short, Rubio needs attention. He also needs to broaden his reach. The senator scorched ties with conservatives when he joined the Gang of Eight seeking immigration reform. He irritated Trump supporters when he aggressively challenged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during the latter’s confirmation hearings. 

Where will he go from here? The obvious answer is to drill down on support from Hispanics, who may play an important role in some primary states like Florida, his home turf, and is a group that Trump has largely alienated.  

Advocating for a tax break for low-income families with children, which will especially help Latinos, is a great start. Rubio pushed for raising the child tax credit to $2,000; then he insisted that the credit be refundable up to an individual’s payroll tax liability, which would allow more low-income people to pay zero taxes. He won on both fronts.

The child tax credit is especially beneficial for those in the Latino community, who tend to have large families. According to the Pew Research Center, “Fully half of Hispanic mothers have three or more kids”; that compares with only one-third of white moms, and 27 percent of Asian mothers. No wonder Rubio is so committed. 

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Bernie Sanders: US should pull out of war in Yemen if Saudis killed journalist Senators warn Trump that Saudi relationship is on the line MORE (R-Utah) also favors doubling the child tax credit. Mormons, who dominate Lee’s home state of Utah, have the biggest families in the U.S., with, on average, 3.4 children. That’s way higher than the typical Hispanic family’s 2.6 children. 

Numerous critics of Rubio’s plan have pointed out that the credit does nothing to stimulate growth; that it is, in fact, poor policy. But, it will be helpful to Rubio.

Republicans opened themselves up to this kind of obstruction by failing to sell the bill to the American public. In a recent poll, 64 percent of respondents opposed the tax changes. In other words, nearly two-thirds of those polled don’t like a bill that lowers taxes for most Americans. 

Those interviewed have probably listened to Democrats, who have relentlessly lied about the bill, describing it as a handout only to the rich and "Big Business" and, as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) so colorfully described it, a “punch in the gut” to the middle class. 

Even the Washington Post has called out Democrats as being dishonest about the legislation. Unfazed, Democrats have done a bang-up job of souring the public on a tax overhaul that would significantly reduce taxes for 80 percent of working-class families and result in 25 percent of the country paying no taxes at all

Democrats have been able to characterize the tax bill as a handout to the rich and Big Business because, indeed, both those groups will benefit from the proposed changes.

The failing of Republicans is their inability to argue the merits of making Americans companies competitive with those operating in other developed countries and why it is that giving the nation’s top earners an incentive to work hard and earn more is good for the economy.

Democrats are terrified the tax bill will go through, and that the economy will continue to improve. Wages have not yet moved upward; almost certainly they will as employment continues to tighten.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of private sector job openings are up 7 percent year-over-year; that figure has been at or near a record high since June. At the same time, more people are quitting their jobs, signaling greater confidence in the labor market. 

That spells higher wages down the road. With a soaring stock market, higher take-home pay and consumers more optimistic than they’ve been in a decade, Democrats are going to struggle to convince the country it’s time for a change.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. For 15 years, she has been a columnist for The Fiscal Times, Fox News, the New York Sun and numerous other organizations.